Jonah Matranga has seen every angle of the music business and every aspect of what it is like to be a musician. From being in bands like New End Original, Far, Gratitude, and his solo work under his birth name and "onelinedrawing." From writing -- and appearing on -- songs from Lupe Fiasco, Deftones, Thursday and many others, Matranga is one of music's greatest gifts.
With a voice as vulnerable as an infant's immune system but as powerful as a Mustang's engine, Matranga is also one of America's most underrated songwriters. Brilliant with a pen, his lyrics could bring grown men to tears -- and trust me, he has -- just go to any of his solo gigs and you will feel enough emotion that you will leave exhausted but grateful and cleansed. As he preps his new album, I spoke to the singer his career, social issues, and music.
Your new album comes out in the spring, what can fans expect from you now?
This batch of songs feels good. There's some really silly stuff and some really sad stuff; some real quiet stuff and some pretty anthemic big stuff too. So, all over the place. As usual.
The new record is being recorded under the moniker of onelinedrawing, a name you used for many years then dropped, and now, seem to be adopting again. What happened that cause you to go under that name again?
I dunno, just seems right. It's more fun to put on a t-shirt than my name, too.
You have had many parts and roles in the music industry from frontman to songwriter to vocalist, what means the most to you?
The ideas and the making of them are the center of it, really. Whether it's a song or a way of sharing it, I love ideas. Also, I've really just been enjoying the act of singing lately, singing with lots of different people, just using my voice. Feels great.
Do you miss playing in a band or do you prefer being a solo artist?
Both. (Laughs) I love making noise with a band, but it really puts so many limitations on how you can play, tour, all that stuff. Also, the fewer crazy musicians around, the better. (Laughs)
You have collaborated with so many artists, who would you love to work with now and why?
I'd love to work with more hip-hop artists, making cool hooks. I'd love to help people write songs. I'd love to help young artists learn honorable and fun ways to make their music and get it into the world.
In 2007, Radiohead was praised for allowing fans pay whatever they wanted for their record, In Rainbows. You, however, had been doing that for years. Do you feel that finally your model is catching on?
Yeah, seems to be. I should be getting royalties! It'd be nice to get credit for such things, but that's silly. It's been around forever, of course. I'd love to see lots more.
As a songwriter, you always have so much to say on and off record. Social issues are always at the forefront of dialogue for you. In our day and age, what is the most important social issue to you?
Wealth disparity. People that are beyond-comprehension poor, then people with more money than anyone will ever need. I just think it's gross and weird. I'm not sure what to do about it, but it's on my mind a lot. A little bit of balance could go a long way.
Speaking of social issues, what are your thoughts on what has happened to Pussy Riot?
It kind of boggles my mind, honestly. It's terrifying that we all know it happened, and they're still locked up. They are, right? Yeah, just spins my head. The things we do.
You are an outspoken activist for President Obama, even writing a song called "I Believe in Barack Obama" in 2008. What do you expect from the Commander-in-chief in the next term?
Oh, I just want him to stay sweet and do his best to find compromise in this big mess. I don't expect him to make any sweeping changes. I'd love to see better tax policy and gun laws, I guess. So much of it is up to us. He's just the frontman for our band, really. He's a really good frontman, though.
Your live shows are cathartic for your fans. Normally I would speak for myself on this one, but everyone who has seen you says the same thing. Does it have the same impact on you or is it just something you look at as a job?
Oh, I think it might affect me more than anyone else, even. Seriously. That said, I know how much shows have affected me over the years, totally changed my life. If any of my shows have felt anything like that to anyone else, I'm so happy about that. It's such a huge honor.
After doing this for so long, what is your fondest memory?
Ah, of course there's no answer to that. I have so many memories, they float in and out depending on my mood, my situation, everything. What comes to mind right now is playing at the grave of this really sweet guy who died of cancer way too young. It was me and his mom at his grave. We didn't know each other. She didn't speak English. I don't speak French. There was just the music and the daytime. That's all I need.